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A short story by Etta Belle Walker

Roanoke, The Gateway To The Great Southwestern Empire

Title:     Roanoke, The Gateway To The Great Southwestern Empire
Author: Etta Belle Walker [More Titles by Walker]

Raw-re-noke is an Indian word for money. The city of Roanoke was originally a land grant to Thomas Tosh, an old settler who came to "Big Lick" and settled there after King George II and King George III had granted him sixteen hundred acres of land along that fertile valley. "Big Lick" was a favorite spot for the wild game and for the Indians too, for there they found the salt so necessary to life itself. One of Tosh's daughters married General Andrew Lewis and became the mother of Major Andrew Lewis and Thomas Lewis.

Later on, as more settlers came into the valley, quite a village grew up around "Big Lick" and in 1874 it was incorporated with John Trout as Mayor. Then in 1881 the village woke up. Saws and hammers were heard from dawn 'til dusk. The Roanoke Machine Works were being built. Nearby, stores and houses were springing up, warehouses and boarding-houses. Surveyors were laying off lots and laying out streets. Contractors and engineers, artisans and mechanics were coming in every day. The men who sold supplies for all of these were indeed busy. The Norfolk and Western Railroad had come to Roanoke!

Old folks can still remember when rabbits ran over the grounds where stands the Hotel Roanoke. Small boys picked up Indian arrow-heads where now the beautiful grounds sweep down to the Station itself. They still tell how Salem Avenue was once a marsh and was later filled in for the fast growing town. Then came the union of the Norfolk and Western and the Shenandoah Valley Railroads. From that day to this, Roanoke has been the "Magic City." It was as if some magic wand had been waved over the one-time little village. But actually it was due to the industry and vision of the city planners who had built for the future. Commercial, manufacturing and industrial activities kept a pace ahead of the fast growing town. Among the first of these were the American Bridge Works and the rolling mills, iron works, West End Furnaces and the Virginia Brewing Company.

Long ago "Big Lick" was known to a few. It was situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains, surrounded by rolling valleys and watered by springs of crystal clear waters. Other streams made it an ideal place for the herds of buffalo and elk which roamed up and down the Valley of the Great Spirit. Indians came, too, to hunt them and thousands of smaller fur-bearing animals and birds for their feasts.

When the sturdy settlers from Ireland and Scotland came to seek a new home in the wilderness, they chose to follow the Great Road which later was known as the Wilderness Road. This led them along the beautiful valleys and across the mountains; soon tiny cabins, churches and crude taverns were being built.

Near where Fincastle stands today, there came a man years ago from Ireland, Thomas King. He had left behind his second wife, Easter, three children by his first wife, and several younger ones by Easter. He had come to make a home for them in Fincastle County and ran a tavern near where Roanoke stands today.

Then Easter wrote him that his oldest son, William, had arrived in Philadelphia and was working for a merchant. He was peddling merchandise and liked the new country.

Thomas was delighted and eager to see his fourteen-year-old son. He saddled his own horse and led a pony all the miles down the long Valley trail. He passed such settlements as Staunton, Lexington, Winchester, Hagerstown, camping out or, stopping at some settler's house over-night. It took weeks for him to make the long trip.

The merchant in the meantime realized he had a smart salesman in William and he made a bargain with him a few days before his father arrived. He asked him not to work for anyone else and set a time limit for his employment with him.

We can imagine how William felt when his father came, bringing a pony for him to ride back to Virginia. But he kept his word. He continued to go out with his peddler's pack on his back and his bright smile and polite manners helped him to sell his wares long before others sold theirs. The merchant told him he could go peddling to Virginia and that he could leave some of his articles in his father's tavern. William did this, leaving them at other taverns along the Great Road, too. And thus began the early chain stores.

When the pioneers began going on farther down the Southwestern part of Virginia, Thomas King went as far as where Abingdon stands today. He sent William back to Ireland for his step-mother and his brothers and sisters. William now had a little money and he inherited some from his grandmother, so he not only brought his family over, but he paid for several other Scotch-Irish and charged a little extra as interest until they could repay him.

He liked the people and the lovely country around Abingdon and bought land and built himself a home there. He went to see the salt marsh a few miles away where Saltville is now. This land was owned by General Russell. William urged him to develop the marsh, for at one time Indians had come there to get salt to preserve their game. But General Russell did not think much of the plan, and agreed to sell it to William.

The story of how he laughed, along with others, at William King when he dug and dug and did not find the salt spring is often told. But when William's men had dug for one hundred and ninety feet the "bottom dropped out" and the salt water gushed forth. William made thirty thousand dollars a year out of his salt business and left a fortune to his many nieces and nephews.

Roanoke is the gateway through which the visitor continues down the famous Valley Pike, Route Eleven. From every curve in the road one sees the beauty of nature. One learns bits of early history from the numerous historic signs along the route--for every footstep of the brave pioneers was bitterly contested from here on.

These first settlers were "a remarkable race of people for intelligence, enterprise and hardy adventure." They had come partly from Botetourt, Augusta and Frederick counties and from Maryland and Pennsylvania. They wanted liberty and freedom to worship God as a man's conscience dictated. They were a strong, stern people, simple in their habits of life, God-fearing in their practices, freedom-loving and good neighbors, yet unmerciful in their dealing with their enemies. Who were the trail blazers for these Scotch-Irish and Germans?

Dr. Thomas Walker qualified as a surveyor of Augusta County in 1748. He later set off with Colonel James Wood, Colonel James Patton, Colonel John Buchanan, and Major Charles Campbell, some hunters and John Finlay to explore southwest Virginia.

They were followed as far as New River by Thomas Ingles (or Engles) and his three sons, a Mrs. Draper and her son George and her daughter Mary, Adam Harman, Henry Leonard and James Burke. They were pioneers in search of new homes in the wilderness. Lands were surveyed for all of them on Wood's River and they made the first settlement west of the Alleghany Divide.

[The end]
Etta Belle Walker's short story: Roanoke, The Gateway To The Great Southwestern Empire